University Leaders Answer Student Questions

At Student Association-sponsored forum, President Knapp and administrators addressed questions about ranking data.
November 21, 2012

George Washington administrators President Steven Knapp, Provost Steven Lerman, Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles, Senior Vice Provost Forrest Maltman, and Dean of Students Peter Konwerski met with GW students at a town-hall-style meeting Monday night to answer questions about errors the university made in reporting high school class rank data. The Student Association presented the forum.

“This is a serious mistake, and we want to make sure nothing even remotely similar to this ever happens again,” Dr. Knapp said. He told students that he and other administrators announced the error to the university community and U.S. News & World Report shortly after discovering the mistake, simply because it was the right thing to do.  The issue should not define the university, Dr. Knapp said.

“I’m proud of our students and our faculty and this institution, which is making rapid strides to be a truly great university right here at the heart of the nation’s capital,” he said. “As I said in my statement, the fact that U.S. News chose to respond as it did was a surprise to us. Despite what they did, we remain the same institution. This is an error in one very small part of the university. We’re correcting that error and making sure it will never happen again.”

Provost Steven Lerman outlined a four-point action plan to correct the error and ensure it is not repeated. First, he said, the people previously responsible for overseeing the data are no longer doing so. Second, Institutional Research will now have responsibility for both the reporting of the data and for verifying the accuracy of the data supplied by the admissions office, ensuring that staff members responsible for admissions work will not be verifying admissions data. Third, the university will institute periodic external audits of admissions data. Fourth, Dr. Lerman’s office is recruiting a new manager of enrollment from outside of the university. This person will report to Dr. Maltzman and will have control over issues of admissions and financial aid.

In response to a student question about whether the university would release a copy of the external audit recently performed on admissions data, Dr. Knapp explained that the audit results had been presented orally.

Dr. Knapp also discussed the value of rankings, in response to student questions.

“These rankings are problematic primarily because of their one-size-fits-all approach to higher education. They measure inputs, not outcome,” he said. “The [U.S. News] rankings are problematic for institutions like ours because they don’t take into account some of the things that are really special about this institution…. We don’t do what we do to drive rankings.”

Several administrators and students emphasized that the things that make GW a world-class university have not changed.

“We’re the same university we were before,” Dr. Lerman said.

Ms. Voles encouraged students to play an active role in sharing what makes GW special and to share its strengths with those outside the university.

“We’ll collect the great stories about what you students do, and our faculty and staff, and get those out in a way that reflects who we are,” she said. “Not only to our prospective students but to our alumni, our parents and our current students.”

Student Association President Ashwin Narla said he understood that some students were frustrated about the reporting error, but appreciated their participation in the forum.  

“That’s why we’re here today—to understand what happened and what we’re doing as a university to move forward,” he said.